It's exciting to be around for a first-time historical occurrence, even a relatively minor one. The 2006 Playwrights Horizons' production of the Scott Frankel-Michael Korie-Doug Wright musical Grey Gardens yielded a cast recording, but the show subsequently underwent major rewrites for its Broadway transfer. In an unprecedented move, PS Classics has now released a cast album of the new version, which will completely replace the first one. (If you've got your hands on the Off-Broadway CD, hold on tight; it's already a collector's item.)
In comparing the two, you can judge for yourself whether the new songs -- "The Girl Who Has Everything," "Goin' Places," "Marry Well," and the new ending -- are better than those they replaced, or just different. You can also form an opinion as to whether the one new leading player, Erin Davie as "Little" Edie (in Act I), is better than Sara Gettelfinger, whom she replaced.
However you feel about any of this, you'll be stunned by the work of Christine Ebersole and Mary Louise Wilson. In the show's second act, the stars portray with supreme artistry and skill two of the most entertainingly insane characters in the history of musical theater. Despite significant flaws in the writing, Grey Gardens and its cast albums are worthwhile for these performances alone.
I was mystified by the critical response to Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me; for some reason, many scribes dismissed the show out of hand. It's too bad that there's no DVD of it, since much of the humor was, of course, visual. But Ghostlight's recently released cast album provides aural evidence that this zany, mock-biomusical revue was far better than you'd think from reading the notices.
Comedy albums don't generally wear well, yet this one has a good chance of finding its way to your CD player for repeated playings because the songs, by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, are terrific. The wildly talented supporting cast consists of Shaiman, Brooks Ashmanskas, Mary Birdsong, Nicole Parker, and the amazing Capathia Jenkins, whose 11 o'clock number "A Big Black Lady Stops the Show" has happily been preserved here for posterity. What's not to like? Nothing, as far as I'm concerned.
Kirsten Childs' Off-Broadway musical Miracle Brothers was a mess in many respects, even though its score was obviously the work of an extremely talented composer-lyricist. Far more successful was her previous effort, The Bubby Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin, presented by Playwrights Horizons in 2000 but only very recently recorded (by Ghostlight).
The show is a semi-autobiographical, coming-of-age story about a young African-American woman in a white world. Ghostlight's CD features original cast members LaChanze (as Viveca "Bubbly" Stanton), Jerry Dixon, Felicia Finley, Darius de Haas, Jonathan Dokuchitz, Cheryl Alexander, Duane Boutté, Robert Jason Jackson, Natalie Venetia Belcon, and Angel Desai; joining them for the recording are Adriane Lenox and Shayna Steele. The score, highlighted by such songs as "Sweet Chitty Chatty," "Smile, Smile," "Brave New World," and "Listen!", is as charming as the show's title.
The original cast recordings of Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd, Merrily We Roll Along, Sunday in the Park With George, and Into the Woods have just been remastered and reissued on Sony/BMG's new Masterworks Broadway label. Listeners with sharp ears may perhaps find the sound quality marginally improved. But many Sondheimians will miss having the lyrics printed in the CD booklets, as they were in the first editions of these indispensable albums, and will find the new liner notes to be poorly written. Wisely, Sony/BMG has made the original notes and complete lyrics accessible online; you can find them at www.masterworksbroadway.com/sondheim/lyrics.
Also from Masterworks Broadway, in partnership with Playbill Records, are two compilation CDs titled Broadway Scene Stealers -- one devoted to great performances by men, the other showcasing fabulous women. In the age of iPods and computer downloading, discs that offer previously released material in new combinations seem increasingly unnecessary, but at least the programming here shows excellent taste. The ladies represented include Barbra Streisand ("Miss Marmelstein" from I Can Get It For Your Wholesale), Dorothy Loudon ("Little Girls" from Annie), and Betty Buckley ("He Plays the Violin" from 1776), along with less famous talents like D'Jamin Bartlett ("The Miller's Son" from A Little Night Music), while the men include the winning Ben Wright ("Giants in the Sky" from Into the Woods), the whimsical Cyril Ritchard ("Captain Hook's Waltz" from Peter Pan), and the wonderful Barney Martin ("Mr. Cellopane" from Chicago).
Some other new recordings will be of interest to musical theater and cabaret mavens. Steven Brinberg's Simply Barbra: The Duets Album features the acclaimed Streisand impressionist crooning "At the Ballet" (from A Chorus Line) with Alix Korey, "My Own Best Friend" (from Chicago) with KT Sullivan, and "Why Can't I Walk Away?" (from Maggie Flynn) with the amazing Mimi Hines, plus eight other tracks showcasing such guest stars as Kaye Ballard, Hugh Panaro, and Heather MacRae.
Maude Maggart Live offers the gorgeous cabaret star in ravishing performances of "I Can't Get Started," "All the Things You Are," "My Funny Valentine" (all from musicals), and a clutch of other favorites, recorded during her gigs in New York at the fabled Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel and at the Gardenia in Los Angeles.
Finally, up-and-coming singer/pianist Tony DeSare's album Last First Kiss programs such standards as Cole Porter's "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To, Irving Berlin's How Deep is the Ocean?, and the Gershwins' They Can't Take That Away From Me, along with a few worthy songs of DeSare's own composition.